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GDB 3.0: Oilers Need A Good Start (7pm MT, SN360)

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Photo credit:Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
3 months ago
The Oilers have had two dreadful starts.
They trailed Vancouver early after allowing Elias Pettersson to score 1:49 into their opening game followed by JT Miller making it 2-0 only 51 seconds later. In their second game Mikael Backlund scored 1:13 into the first frame. Cody Ceci did tie the game two minutes later, but then Calgary scored three goals in a span of 5:44 and led 4-1 in the first 10 minutes.
Edmonton needs to be ready for the opening faceoff, and Evander Kane is confident they will be.
“I think our starts…we haven’t been as engaged as we’ve wanted physically,” said Kane. “We will have a much better start Tuesday night. We need to get engaged physically. I think it wakes everybody up, both as a team and individually.”
Markus Niemelainen was recalled from Bakersfield yesterday and Brad Malone was reassigned. If the Oilers are looking for a physical boost, Niemelainen will provide it. He’s a heat-seeking-missile every time he’s on the ice. He hits hard, and hits often. He skates through guys, and his physical play wakes up his teammates. It looks like Jay Woodcroft will deploy 11 forwards and seven D-men tonight.
But Niemelainen is only one player, and he wasn’t here in games one and two. The Oilers need a better start, but they also need to limit scoring chances off the rush. Currently, they are 31st in chances allowed off the rush. They were quite good in that regard last season under Woodcroft and I expect we will see them tighten up in that area.
Edmonton hasn’t managed the puck well regularly in the offensive zone. They’ve turned pucks over or made the wrong read and that has cost them chances against. Woodcroft feels one of his team’s best assets is their ability to sustain time in the offensive zone, but they haven’t done it as often as he’d like just yet.
“We haven’t sustained enough O-zone time,” said Woodcroft. “I think there is more substance to be had in the offensive zone. I also think that is a good form of checking and it doesn’t get enough credit for when you possess the puck in the offensive zone and grind a team down you are not allowing them to counterattack because they probably spent most of their shift in the own end, which means they flip it out and then they change, and it allows you to get right back on top of them. I think we can be more substantive in the offensive zone.”
Last season the Oilers led the NHL in offensive zone possession time/game at 7:37. Through two games this season they are 22nd at 5:48 — almost two full minutes less of O-zone possession time. Edmonton has too much skill not to possess the puck more regularly. It will come, and when it does their scoring chances against off-the-rush will likely drop as a result. The lack of O-zone possession time has led to the Oilers spending too much time in their D-zone. They are currently 28th in D-zone time (opposition having possession) at 7:29/game. Last year the Oilers were 11th at 6:16.
The best defence is a good offence rings true for the Oilers when you look at O-zone possession time. When Edmonton is playing well, they control the puck and aren’t defending as often. Buffalo is a team the Oilers should be able to control the play against.

LINEUPS…

Oilers

Kane – McDavid – Yamamoto
Hyman – Draisaitl – Puljujarvi
Holloway – RNH – Foegele
Shore – McLeod
Nurse – Ceci
Kulak – Barrie
Murray – Bouchard
Niemelainen
Skinner
Stuart Skinner gets his first start of the season, but he did play almost 50 minutes in relief Saturday v. the Flames. He was excellent, stopping all 31 shots he faced. Dating back to last season Skinner is currently riding a shutout streak of 134:33. He hasn’t allowed a goal since Tyler Toffoli scored at 15:09 of the second period for Montreal in an Oilers 7-2 victory on January 29th. Then on February 14th Skinner shutout San Jose stopping all 20 shots he faced. He was reassigned to the AHL soon after and didn’t play another NHL game until this past Saturday when he stopped all 31 shots he faced.
The original plan was for Skinner to start v. Buffalo, and despite Campbell only playing 10 minutes on Saturday, Woodcroft wanted to stick with his plan. However, Woodcroft did say he wants to be flexible with Skinner’s schedule. He doesn’t have a plan for every start all season.
The top-two lines swapped centres from the start of game two. McDavid is back with Kane and Yamamoto, while Draisaitl centres Zach Hyman and Jesse Puljujarvi. The bad starts in the first two games forced Woodcroft to load up his top line. He’d like to avoid that tonight.

Sabres

Skinner – Thompson – Tuch
Hinostroza – Cozens – Peterka
Asplund – Mittelstadt – Olofsson
Girgensons – Krebs – Okposo
Samuelsson – Dahlin
Power – Jokiharju
Bryson – Lyubushkin
Comrie
The Sabres are a very young team with 12 of their 18 skaters being 24 years and under. They are still rebuilding, but they have some good pieces in Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power, Dylan Cozens, Petyon Krebs, Jack Quinn, John Peterka and Michael Samuelsson. I’d want at least one experienced, veteran defender, but right now they are going with youth. We’ll see how it works. Oilers forwards need to keep their head up when Ilya Lyubushkin is on the ice. He’s very physical.
Eric Comrie will start his second consecutive game for the Sabres as he gets the start in his hometown. Skinner v. Comrie, quite the story line for two Edmonton kids.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers have a better start and they get going offensively and win 6-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton scores two power play goals.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid picks up his 86th career three-point game and first v. the Sabres.

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